In the first 6 months of this year, our society and country have been deeply challenged by a range of events – fires, COVID, BLM – and more. We have been forced into lockdown and found ourselves not in it together as the slogan said but divided by the need to do the right thing and to respond to the injustices, which continue here and abroad.
We are watching what could be called a social experiment without a clearly defined and acceptable outcome in store. We have watched as people who pretend to care for Aboriginal people (we have a RAP) and their culture blow it up and allow it to be blown up, continue the tragedy of deaths in custody and avoid the opportunity to hear what is being said. We have just been informed that Tertiary education, which was once free, will have a fees differential favouring those subjects vital to economic numbers at the expense of critical thinking and the humanities.
This is not a time to be timid and compliant. It is time to be loud and visible. It is a time to embrace a way of being prioritising our integral relationships as human beings, the gardeners of Creation. The integral relationships are with God, others and creation and to do so regardless of the expense to ourselves and to those who benefit most from the status quo.
Todays Gospel from Matthew is a challenging one. It seems to say you will be set against those you love because you follow Jesus. And you will but not because of your faith. This is not a passage about loyalty to Jesus over against loyalty to family, or anyone else for that matter. Jesus is not interested in founding another church or building up a body of people who are worshipping him.
Jesus is interested in fidelity to the relationships integral to a just and compassionate world where those who are beyond the fence are gathered in and advocated for. Jesus is interested in overturning the power of the elites, those who have the power and maintain it at the expense of others who are simply grist for the mill.
This is where the conflict will occur – between those who want to and those who are unprepared to or are violently defensive or simply are uninterested in changing the balance of power and putting the integral relationships first.
Jesus mission is spiritual in the universal or wider sense and not as often used in opposition to materialism, and as such it is political. It cannot be anything else. It is a conflict between the economy of God for the poor and marginalised and the whole of creation against the economy of the flesh built on power and privilege.
It is about our relationship with God and how we understand it. If we understand our relationship with God as fire insurance and the art of selling fire insurance to others, converting them to be a replica of ourselves, then we will understand the conflict personally. But if we understand our relationship in terms of standing in for God in our context and the context of our day to day world we will begin to see we have the responsibility to nurture life (equity, liberation, freedom of choice, opportunities for all to flourish) and oppose death (privilege, power over others, wealth at the expense of others poverty, extravagance, and the inappropriate use of nature.) If this is our focus then we will encounter conflict, even in our own homes.
It is about our relationship with others, all the others we share this planet with. There are no exceptions. It is about a non-violent lifestyle, mindful of how we impact and influence the lives and experiences of others. It is not seeing ourselves greater than in any way than anyone or any element of creation. We understand our inter-relatedness and our custodial responsibility and reciprocity to all and live as such without overvaluing our place here. It is living in a detached manner or doing the right thing by and for others regardless of its impact on us. This is challenging stuff and very difficult to do. Those who preface themselves over others will be at odds with you and challenge any action you take but take it you must if you are going to honour both this relationship and your relationship with God.
It is about our relationship with creation. Adam was given the responsibility to care for the garden, a task he fluffed. He was to be the Gardener; a model of the deep concern and compassion God has for all. Naming the creatures Adam came into relationship with them (as Noah did in the flood) was Adam was to be imago deo – the image of God. This is the archetype we are to embrace as human beings in this world. Unlike others such as Cain and the architects of the Tower of Babel who sought to usurp their given roles or to rise above triumphantly over the earth, we are to be people of the dirt, people who live in harmony with all God created and saw was good. Once we stand for creation we find ourselves standing against certain developments, land practices and extractive practices that occur without concern for those who live there. Again in doing so we will encounter conflict from those who plunder and misuse creation for their purpose and financial benefit.
As we have noted previously Mahatma Gandhi describes the will of God as intelligent action in a detached manner. Living the relationships integral to being a fully alive human being asks us to do just that. In our context it means standing up against the systemic violence resulting in deaths in custody, the high incarceration rates and poverty of Aboriginal people; it means rethinking our investment strategies and the investment strategies of super companies who invest in extractive mining who act without concern for nature or culture; it means defending the right for your children and grandchildren to study the courses they desire without financial punishment for not doing what’s good for the economy and those who benefit from it; it means standing up for those who are going to be deeply affected through job loss, mortgage pressure and renters who may lose their place of abode; it means standing up for the homeless, those in the arts and hospitality industry and saying clearly whatever we do now must be equitable and life-giving for all, including those without a voice.
And this is only the beginning. Jesus calls us to his life and we are to note we too may endure violence for our stand, just as he did.